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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, April 15, 2023 — Parimutuel wagering is a zero-sum game. Every cent wagered is the product of collective wisdom: speed figures, pace projections, race dynamics, betting pool analysis, backside information, et al. No one entity has a lock on the sport.

Contextually, betting on the races is akin to democracy in action, unless of course the playing field is tilted in the direction of an entitled few. Think of it as the 1% of horseplayers, those who enjoy tremendous tax advantages at the expense of the masses.

I don’t live in a bubble. I live in the real world where bettors like myself seek an edge on the competition, my fellow horseplayers. It’s a battle of wits; interpretive analysis whereby I’m betting that my knowledge is superior to the crowd’s.

Sometimes I’m right, most times not. But I keep playing because it’s the greatest gambling game played outdoors, horses are among God’s most beautiful creations, and those who care for them on a daily basis are my heroes.

I’d be one of them but I never had much taste for a 24/7/365 work schedule; there’s family and friends to love and other forms of  entertainment that helps complete a lifecycle and lifestyle–even present-day, when so much that happens now is going all to hell.

But no one can beat the opposition if they get to use deflated footballs.

In pari-mutuel speak, that means giving computer-assisted, last-minute bettors special access to racing’s most liquid pools, unavailable to the rank and file even as the privileged are made whole by sizable rebates at the expense of the 99 percent.

Special access made possible by computer key-stroke is racing’s version of insider trading, the reason parimutuel take-outs remain high. Roughly one in every five wagered dollars is withheld which goes to keeping the lights on and rewarding mega-bet conglomerates.

Officials believe they must cater to whales to protect betting handle that’s been virtually flat for decades, never mind keeping pace with inflation. What they fail to grasp is that if rank and file players continue walking away, today’s precious purses will be unsustainable.

The most egregious example of what could help shutter the game in the long term occurred at Keeneland of all places, in the Grade 1 Maker’s Mark of all races, in which a returning champion was making his season’s debut at odds of 45-cents on the dollar.

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf and BC Mile winner Modern Games had two prime rivals, Up To The Mark and Chez Pierre, the latter a 24-1 chance in the final minute of wagering. As an aside, we pounded the 7 // 2.3 // 2.3 with a small reverse using the favorite second due to the inflated odds on Chez Pierre.

In the final flash of the tote, Chez Pierre went from 24-1 to 9-1 and won by a short pole. as an uncharacteristically dull Modern Games edged Up To The Mark for the place. The 3-7-2 trifecta returned $74.92 for $1. The computer algorithm had it right, and it corrected the market inefficiency at once.

The public never has time to react to such tote activity. Even if it had, it would be incapable of pumping that much money into the straight pool in such a short duration. And this does not reflect the lightning fast corrections made in the exacta and trifecta pools.

This practice rigs an already difficult game against 98-to-99 percent of racing’s fan base. Tracks and bet shops have a right to reward its best customers, but until fixed-odds wagering actually becomes a reality, bet-takers have a obligation to show consideration for all horse racing fans.

Simply lock in computer-assisted wagering to three minutes prior to off time, thus providing a small window for those rank-and-filers wishing to react to late-odds changes with a puncher’s chance.

This has been done before, but all circuits must provide a fair opportunity by leveling the playing field to a small degree. It’s not perfect, but it’s a small step for the industry to show its ever-decreasing fan base that it cares about them, too. If there’s a better immediate fix, then do that.

On Saturday, a Gulfstream Park employee told me that the Maker’s Mark race was the only topic of conversation among the regulars, telling me they were angry, incredulous that such a last-minute odds drop could occur in such a sizable pool.

If the Maker’s Mark were some claiming race run mid-week at a B-level track, and a race developed the way the Maker’s Mark did, garbage pails might have been overturned and the contents set on fire, or some other demonstration like those that occurred in the bad old days at New York’s metropolitan harness tracks.

Do bet-takers think that such a demonstration, or something similar, couldn’t happen today? The real question is whether they’re willing to continue gambling that it won’t.

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10 Responses

  1. Excellent article,John. I don’t know if it is good or bad,but I remember the incident at the harness tracks. The problem is racing never corrected any of this years ago. Many years ago some big players complained about odds changes at NYRA tracks. It was finally corrected a year or two ago,but now players are complaining about short prices on exacta payouts.In my opinion for the game to survive players have to get a fair break in all pools. On a somber note,most of the players who complained at NYRA have left the game. Some got old and others just got fed up. It is still a great game,but it seems as time goes by less players are involved.In an Information Age racing should be thriving,but instead it is diving. We keep fighting the good fight,but racing management keeps hitting below the belt,without any penalty.

    1. Aaron, I have nothing to add. Meanwhile, I’ll just keep shining a light until somebody does something.

      Thanks for taking the time to care…

  2. JG, As I navigate my way through your response, the only response I can offer is players do not have time to react as, in the case of Chez Pierre in the Maker’s Mark, the odds drop was absolutely last minute with no time on the clock for Joe Sixpack.

    I don’t think CAW would work the same way in other countries as, in the main, their past performance information is scant compared to that offered in the U.S., much of it is based on race watching video.

    Now, what’s this about Forte?

  3. Why bother when sports betting, the other home for horse race gamblers, is available in an increasing number of states. Wager on the money line and choose the underdog team to win the game outright and the deal you get is -100 / + (100+x).

    I expect the racing establishment to continue to keep their heads in the sand as what has become an old man’s game continues to decline in North America.

    1. Powers That Be: The above comment and message to the industry is from a long time, lover, racing supporter, and horseplayer.

      As the Boss once asked: “Is there anybody alive out there?”

      Dan, sometimes I ask the same question: Why bother, indeed…

  4. Don’t ya have to pick a winner before questioning the payoff?
    Aren’t the young’uns (newbies Alice) quickly discovering that pick’in a winner is very difficult?
    So, as I see it, the whales or geeks (the guys/gals with so-called computer programs) s/be finding it just as difficult to pick a winner. No?
    The ole rebate gets them some of their money wagered back (reminds me of being ‘comped’ at a casino); isn’t this how the USA capitalist system works?
    So, again, as I see it Thoroughbred racing is in deep pucky for one reason only: Bettors simply can’t pick enough winners to make any serious money.

    Get serious, ya think fixed odds is going to change anything? Like pick’in more winners?

    1. Great writeup. Thank you for addressing this, as I have literally not bet a single dollar since I returned last week from keeneland after that Makers Mark, since I am still steaming from that gate odds drop. I’m getting tired of being kicked around that way and increasingly I am finding myself not feeling like handicapping.

      1. Doc is a long time fan and horseplayer who ventured to Keeneland to wager on the product live. He bet on Chez Pierre won, but this was his takeaway from that experience…

        Again, as “the Boss” has asked on many occasions–and this is addressed to industry stakeholders– “Is anybody alive out there?”

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